- Michael Smith, NFL Senior Writer
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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- It's a well-known fact that Jets coach Herman Edwards is a great speaker. Not too shabby a writer, either: A relatively concise message he has posted throughout Weeb Ewbank Hall practically says it all about how he's gotten his team not only to survive but thrive (division title, three playoff appearances in four seasons) under the intense, omnipresent glare of the New York spotlight.
The message reads:
"Over the years, the word 'ego' has taken on a broad spectrum of perceived meanings, including self-confidence, self-assurance and assertiveness. These attributes are needed for our team's success.
"On the other hand, another interpretation of the word ego exists. The other definition is defined as being distracted by your own importance. This can come from an individual's basic sense of insecurity in working with others and can spring from a person's need to draw attention to himself. Ego defined in the above manner makes the outcome of team success very difficult."
Stars are created overnight in New York. In the Big Apple there's controversy every day. The us-against-them, bunker mentality of the Jets has enabled them to recover from a 2-5 start to win the AFC East in 2002 and bounce back from a 6-10 record in '03 to go 10-6 last year despite losing quarterback Chad Pennington for three games and stumbling down the stretch. Under Edwards, the Jets have been able to keep it together when it looks as though everything is about to fall apart. That's because they stick together.
Fortunately for Edwards, he has steady, humble leaders in Pennington and future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. For his part, Edwards practices the humility he preaches. For example, he checks beds at night during training camp, a job ordinarily reserved for someone a lot lower on the totem pole. On road trips, Edwards and his wife, Lia, ride in the back of the plane, leaving first class for veterans and other coaches.
Edwards does those things to make a point, to set an example. Like Alexander the Great leading from the front.
"You can't think you're bigger and better than anyone else," Edwards said. "It's inconvenient to get up and go check the rooms. But I want to go see my players. That's how your players know, 'If the head coach can do it, why can't I do it?' They know that if they're going to sweat, I'm sweating, too. I'm not going to ask them to do something I wouldn't do."
To Edwards, the most important ingredient in team chemistry is, simply, commitment. "Commitment for me is real simple," he said. "It usually starts with a struggle. You don't want convenience. That's why people struggle with commitment, because they accept convenience. When you're trying to create chemistry, there's no convenience about chemistry. There's commitment. You have to get enough guys understanding that. And when you do, you've got good chemistry.
"And when you win, that really keeps it stirred up."
It would seem impossible to get 50-plus professional athletes, many of them multimillionaires, all to get along. Well, it is. So more important is getting those 50-some-odd guys to see and respect the value of each individual's contribution.
"You can have a winning team and good chemistry, [but] that doesn't mean all of [the players] are great guys," Edwards said. "That means all of them respect each other. You don't have to like the guy that you play with, but you have to respect him. Socially you don't even have to go out with the guy. But you have to respect what he does for this team to help us win."
Brings to mind the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens situation. It's clear they don't like each other, but they obviously have great chemistry. Just as long as they can talk business when the time comes, they can tune each other out off the field yet still make beautiful music on it.
Pennington has a feel for Laveranues Coles that he doesn't have with other receivers.
Every team, for the most part, has talent. When teams are close in talent, usually it's chemistry that separates them.
"I think chemistry wins games more than talent," Martin said. "I don't think you need all the talent in the world, but I think you need the best chemistry. Usually the team with the best chemistry turns out to be the best team. For instance, New England. They just have amazing chemistry and camaraderie.
"Chemistry to me is like a oneness. You're familiar enough to cover one another's weaknesses and play to one another's strengths. That's true chemistry to me. The teams that do that best win."
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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